An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Actor/director/producer Tim Daly and a determined crew used just eighteen days and one million dollars to produce this unusual study in grief.  Opening at the TriBeca Film Festival in New York, the movie features actors with a theater background as well as television and film pros Edward Hermann and Marsha Mason.  The story is strong, the actors skilled.

Daly has created a breathtaking sight.  Saturating the extraordinary Vermont countryside in deep color, rolling past physical beauty that is nearly impossible, but true, he gives us a landscape that is visually overwhelming.  Shot in High Definition, not on film, this beautiful jolt is a strong suggestion of what lies ahead in making movies.   

But there is far more here than beauty.  Disturbed by the American way of mourning  Ė three days and itís over - Daly and scriptwriter Peter Ferland focus on Molly (Vinessa Shaw), a young widow haunted by images of her dead husband.  At family dinners, Mollyís father (Edward Hermann) stays in his disconnected space, pretending everything is fine while her mother (Marsha Mason) lunges brashly into the reality of Mollyís behavior with her own solution:  her daughter will recover if she just finds another man.  Mollyís younger sister (Ari Graynor), sick of the family pretense around her, turns a surly face to her sister in a desperate effort to get the family to talk honestly.            

When Molly meets Dennis (Tim Blake Nelson) and his uncle Happy (Tim Daly), she is drawn to the cruelty of their trailer park culture.  Their collaboration starts slowly with invasion of the privacy of strangers until finally Mollyís unresolved grief finds full channel as she joins the men in violence that, for her, approaches the violence done to her husband.  Here, at last, is a way she can tell family and community that nothing is right with her world.  Because her character, unlike that of her new partners, is basically strong, she is suddenly checked by the shock of the pain of her victim. 

Barbara Lloyd plays the victim of their violence in stunned bewilderment.  Hers is a moving scene that cries out that the details of a personís life, the things she values, her saved possessions, can be just as vulnerable and important as the people she loves.

 In a superb early scene, Amy Van Nostrand plays a photo shop manager who delivers a running stream of politically incorrect chatter at the expense of a customer who wilts before our eyes.  Van Nostrandís comic timing is so good, so quick, that we realize how rarely we see this kind of skill.

Tim Daly uses a sad premise to explore dual rural cultures by showing us the explosion that can result when the two collide in their darkest sides.  As sad as the movie is, as violent as it becomes, one thing is certain.  Vermont has never looked more beautiful than it does in High Definition.   


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